Contributor Josh Adams interviews Wayne Dunker, the parks and recreation director of Washington, Missouri.
by Josh Adams
During my time working on the Missouri Trails Project, I traveled to all corners of Missouri in which I met a great number of people involved in trails and trail planning. One delightful trip, I found myself mapping out trails in Washington, Missouri. A peaceful and touristic town, along the Missouri river, just west of St. Louis. In comparing my notes for trails I’ve collected, databases compiled (with the help of Missouri State Parks) and discovering future trail plans, I began to see a pivotal moment for the future of trails in Missouri. As a major economic factor that trails provide to trail towns, I saw Washington as a shiny new star. Over the course of my project, I got to know the parks and recreation director, Wayne Dunker. I decided to interview him on the for the future of trail connections.
1) Can you briefly tell us about your background?
I received my Undergrad: Southeast MO State University, BS in Recreation. I received my Graduate: Webster University, MA in Management and Leadership. I have 19 years working in the parks and recreation field for multiple municipalities in the St. Louis area in various capacities. I’ve been the Director of Parks and Recreation in Washington, MO since January 2019.
2) How did you decide on Washington, Missouri to apply for Parks and Rec Director?
Washington intrigued me because it’s a smaller, predominantly German river town, like my home town of Ste. Genevieve, MO. The Director’s role is allowing me to focus more on the parks and nature side of the recreation field rather the recreation programming side.
3) Tell us what’s great about Washington for tourists?
Washington is a Missouri river town and has a great riverfront which includes trails, parks, small shops and restaurants. Washington is also an active railroad town and has an Amtrak Passenger Depot and a replica caboose at the Railroad Heritage Park (next door) that visitors can visit.
4) What is important to Washington in Connecting to the Katy Trail?
Connecting to the Katy Trail will allow people to access the trail without driving to the nearest trailhead in Warren County. Connecting will allow visitors to cross the Missouri River to access Washington’s parks, trails, shops and restaurants.
5) In regard to trails, what are the future plans for trail development in Washington?
We still have a trail to put in at our newest park, Miller Post Nature Reserve. Busch Creek Greenway will be an off street trail in parts of town connected by lone streets. Busch Creek will connect with Rotary Riverfront Trail in the downtown area.
6) In 2018, Division of Tourism research found 42 Million tourists are visiting Missouri providing an $18 Billion Economic impact to communities. That’s roughly $1.4 Billion for state and local tax revenues in 2018. Do you believe connecting a trail to downtown? Washington will help boost the economy? If so, in what way?
I do believe connecting a trail to our downtown would help boost Washington’s economy. The trail will bring families, riders, and tourists across the Missouri River bridge to visit our parks, shops, restaurants and businesses.
7) The Rock Island Trail is still being decided to be accepted by Missouri State Parks. The end of the 144-mile portion in question ends in Beaufort which is only about 15 to 20 miles southwest from Washington. How will this trail impact the economy and tourism in Washington if local communities find ways to connect to it?
If the Rock Island Trail would connect to Washington it would be HUGE. Washington should expect to see a steady stream of new customers who are looking for a place to eat, drink and stay overnight before continuing on to the nearby Katy Trail. We currently have a river trail in our downtown district so I would assume that downtown would see the biggest impact from new visitors.
8) Great Rivers Greenway in St. Louis has a trail plan for a new trail ending near Pacific which is only about 15 to 20 miles southeast from Washington. How will this trail impact the economy and tourism in Washington if local communities find ways to connect to it?
Again, with Washington only a few miles away from the Katy Trail; I would expect that if GRG’s trail would connect to Washington it would bring in an influx of people looking to shop, eat, drink and potentially spending the night. I would think a lot of people would travel into Washington for some of our many special events.
9) What would happen if none of these trails are connected?
If none of these trails could connect, I guess life would go on! Personally, I would like at a minimum, to get Washington to connect to the Katy Trail but that is going to take some work with our neighbors to the north in Warren County.
10) Have you met opposition in regards to build new trails in Washington? If so, what’s their reasoning?
I’ve been the Director of Parks and Recreation for eleven months now and I haven’t run into any opposition yet, but I have not had a chance to reach out to anyone regarding connecting other trails to Washington. I’ve heard that Warren County is not keen on connecting to the Katy Trail. Warren County must connect to the Katy Trail in order to get people to and from Washington. Prior to writing this article, the Rock Island Corridor (144 miles) was in transition to being accepted by Missouri State Parks as a gift from Ameren. With this recent news of acceptance, I decided to call Wayne back with follow up questions.
11) Now that the Rock Island Trail (RIT) has been accepted by State Parks, what will Washington do to get ready to connect both these trails possibly?
The City will take a look at how the connection could work to benefit the Washington area. Right now, our focus is trying to work with Warren County in order to connect to the Katy Trail. Now that the Highway 47 river bridge is complete, crossing the Missouri River is EASY with a dedicated lane for pedestrians.
12) With the completion of the RIT, along with the Katy trail, I believe they will become the longest ‘rail to trail’ loop in the nation of nearly 450 miles, how will this impact Washington, a city that will be between both trails?
The connection of the two trails could bring huge economic benefits to the City and area. I think people may be underestimating some of the financial benefits.
American Trails contributing author Josh Adams spoke with Greg Harris about the very exciting Rock Island Trail project. In 2019 the Rock Island Trail got a huge boost when a 144-mile corridor was donated to expand the trail.
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